So what is a trike exactly, and what sets it apart from your standard bicycle?
“Tri” indicates three, illuminating the extra tire added to the typical bicycle. Actually, trike is short for tricycle. But who really wants to say that they are riding a tricycle around the world?
“Wow, your going around the world… that’s amazing. How do you plan to make this epic journey”
“Aboard my trusty tricycle”
(Insert imagination bubble cloud of an adult comically riding thru the African Congo on a children’s tricycle)
In reality, the similarities between the tricycle of our youth and the trike I will be riding are few and far between.
FYI: For this article, I am going to assume that you have NEVER seen a trike.
For one thing, the layout of the wheels are different than you may expect. For the trike design, the two side by side tires are in the front, with the rear of the vehicle supported by the single rear tire. This has a few advantages. For one thing, you add stability. To illuminate this, I can provide you with an example. If you were driving up an incline on a typical bicycle, and it became too steep to push forward fast enough to keep the momentum needed to keep your bike upright, you would simply fall over. Not with a trike. Its wheelbase keeps it in an upright position, nice and stable, no matter if it is moving or not. This allows you to hit the lowest gear possible, and drive up that incline as fast or slow as you need. Could you ever read a book under a tree while seated with your feet off the ground in a typical bicycle? I think not. With the center of gravity lower and the wheelbase spread out, you can do things that are simply not possible with a traditional bicycle.
A trike’s seat is one of its most distinguishing factors. The seat is situated in front of the rear wheel, and continues forward until it meets the front axle. When you sit on the trike, you are in what is called a “recumbent” position. Recumbent basically means “lying down”. Seats are typically ergonomic, and flow as much as possible with your body’s curvature. You can understand that this has significant advantages to traditional upright bicycle riding. When you are driving a trike, your back, shoulders and butt are supported, directing all your attention to the moving parts… your legs. How many times have you ridden a bike, and you find that most of the pain is coming from your back, or your butt. The recumbent position almost eliminates these axillary pains.
Another huge health benefit for men is the ability to “protect the jewels”. Studies have proven that riding an upright bicycle for a long period of time can affect the prostate, causing discomfort and in some cases UTI, kidney damage, bladder stones or sterility! Riding recumbent takes the weight off your valued real estate, taking away the potential for some nasty future problems.
“Hello non-existent son…. I would like to tell you about your fathers epic journey around the world.”
Another unique design element to the recumbent trike is the pedal position. Pedals in front set of the wheels, extended out from the main axle. When you drive a trike, you are pushing the pedals forward and back, instead of up and down. It takes some getting used to. I am told that it takes about 1,000 km of recumbent trike riding to fully get your “trike legs”. Its understandable, as the position is foreign to most bicycle riders, used to using their body weight to press down on the pedals. But with a trike, you are using your seat as the foundation of stability, pressing your legs forward from your seated position.
I will have a rear wheel rack supporting some Ortleib panniers. My life will have to come in at around 50 Kgs (I have some work to do on that). But the great thing about the weight is that it is distributed over the 3 wheels. This helps secure your valuables, and makes sure they never have to be laid down on their side or jostled around more than necessary.
How Low Can You Go?:
Riding a Recumbent trike is a unique experience. Because you are sitting basically on top of the main center bar, you find yourself very close to the ground. In reality, the actual clearance is similar to that of a standard road or tour bike, but the perception of you sitting on the pavement is hard to deny. In response to the lack of vertical visibility, most recumbent trikes have a flag on a pole to alert other people in the area that you are there.
For the most part, materials and parts on the trike are similar to most other bicycles. Frames are aluminum, brakes can be disk or drum, and the wheel size is standard 20 inch. There is a model of trike with a rear 26inch wheel, but I decided against this to try to keep things simple.
The one think that is a little special is the suspension. Trikes have elaborate suspension made to give you a smooth ride devoid as much as possible of the shocks and bumps. Shocks and springs are located at each front wheel, and between the rear wheel assembly and the front. They are fairly simple, consisting of a shock and spring, but they are an extra piece of machinery that you can’t just pick up at the Vietnamese bicycle emporium… (AKA the small shack set up on the side of the dirt road in the middle of Da Nang).
The fortunate thing is that if the suspension is affected, it just means a bumpier ride until you can find your way to a phone to call for spare parts, and not the end of the world.
Of course, it is not all roses and lollipops. Unless you are diabetic, in which case I can rephrase that to, “Of course, it is not all roses and insulin”. I am equal opportunity explainer. But I digress.
There are some negatives to the recumbent trike that I am going to have to deal with.
It is large. Larger than a typical bicycle. This will create problems when I need to conceal my ride, or when I am offered a place to stay for the night. To its benefit, the trike does fold in half rather easily, but this only reduces its footprint from oversized to cumbersome.
The trike is not cheap. They can be valued anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 USD, depending on how you gear them up. This can put a trike out of range for most people. But for me and a lot of riders, the life on the road they have ahead will make them factor in the value as simply cost of living.
Most people will argue with me on this point, but the trike has a stigma associated with it. Name itself bring to mind a toddler slowly working his way up the front driveway, drooling all the way. Although to be honest I might be drooling as some points. Its introduction into the marketplace has been successful to the disabled or elderly. I hope to open up the world to the trike as a mode of transportation for the every-man… or every-woman. I feel like the recumbent trike is a great tool for anyone looking to experience the world on the road, and put the desk life away for a while. And I hope thru my trip I can spread that message.